Michael Steadman leads the way for UMass men’s basketball in win over Fairfield

The big man scored a season-high 20

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McKenna Premus/Daily Collegian

By Joey Aliberti, Assistant Sports Editor

Michael Steadman led the way for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team with season-high 20 points in a 77-73 overtime win against Fairfield Sunday afternoon. A lack of 3-point shooting required Steadman and UMass to get to work in the paint.

The 46 points in the paint tie the second-highest mark of the season for the Minutemen (7-5), and Steadman’s 16 points were a product of the adjusted offensive attack. In comparison to the team that is attempting a fleet of 3-pointers, Steadman and UMass used an old-school approach to produce on offense.

“I’ve been on [Steadman] about playing with a level of aggression and playing with passion,” head coach Matt McCall said. “I thought he lost that a little bit, but there’s no question he got that back and went out there and did that.”

The Minutemen made a season-low three 3-pointers against the Stags (8-4). This team has averaged 11.5 made 3-pointers per game, the fourth most in the country. UMass shot 17.6 percent (3-17) from deep, a massive difference from the 41.2 percent average coming into the game.

“A lot of our first half possessions had only one paint touch and we weren’t moving the defense enough,” Minutemen guard Rich Kelly said. “In the second half we moved the defense a couple times and [Steadman] got hot down low. Once we saw him get a couple easy buckets, we’re like ‘let’s just play through him’ and he did a great job. Without him today, it’s definitely a different game.”

“We don’t want to just be a 3-point relying team,” Steadman said. “We want to be able to play inside and out.”

After scoring 10 in his UMass debut against UMass Lowell, Steadman had not scored more than six points. The 6-foot-10 big was dealing with a sprained ankle that delayed his start in the season and was hampering his on-court performance when he returned. While he feels as though he can get in “a little bit better shape”, he told media he feels good about the condition of his foot and ankle.

“It’s a long season, I got to continue to produce at a high level,” Steadman said. “…It’s no secret I’ve been kind of struggling to start off the season. So having this game is going to give me an energy boost.”

Noah Fernandes and T.J. Weeks missed Sunday’s game with a non-COVID illness. Fernandes and Weeks combine for an average of 25.9 points per game, forcing someone to step up and fill their shoes. With today’s performance, Steadman becomes the first player that is 6-foot-10 or taller to score 20-plus points since Rashaan Holloway in March of 2019.

“[Steadman] is so good down [in the post],” McCall said. “…When you get a guy that can really score with his back to the basket, [Steadman] can stay low and when the ball is thrown across the free throw line, he can duck in. We’ve been spending a lot of time, now that he’s 100 percent healthy getting back into game shape, working on that.”

“That’s what we were doing before he got hurt and it kind of came to fruition today.”

The big man combination of Steadman and Greg Jones was the most common duo that McCall relied on against Fairfield, specifically in the second half. Steadman played 16 of 20 minutes in the second half while Jones played 14. The two combined for 16 of the Minutemen’s 34 second half points and for 10 of the 33 total rebounds.

“I love the passion, I love the aggression and that’s been my message to [Steadman],” McCall said of the combination of Steadman and Jones while trying to get Steadman to match the intensity of Jones. “Go out and play with a level of aggression.”

With one game remaining before UMass heads into its Atlantic 10 schedule, Rich Kelly doesn’t think that “anyone has seen [Steadman’s] full potential yet.”

Joey Aliberti can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @JosephAliberti1.